Out with the old, in with the new (hair)

Suzzanne DouglasMy friend says there are two kinds of people: them and us. And whatever you do (or don’t do) will classify you as one of those people. So I suppose it’s expected I’d be judged by my hair, and for the last twelve years, I’ve been classified as one of ‘those’ women because I had dreads.

Initially, I spent a lot of time claimining I wasn’t one of ‘them’. My hair wasn’t any kind of statement. I simply saw the look on Jeri from Parent ‘Hood, loved it, tried it, dyed it, and kept it for a while. I accepted that it made people perceive me in certain ways. I’ve had people assume I was a rebellious, aggressive, feminist, artiste because of my hairdo. I’ve also had strangers treat me certain ways because I was a ‘rasta’. Sometimes the treatment was pleasant. Other times, not so much.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I saw a gorgeous hairdo on my workmate’s head. It’s a look I’ve always envied, so I figured I’d try it. The only problem was … it would involve losing my dreads. Of course once I did get rid of them, other problems cropped up … pun completely intended.

The thing with my dreads is … was … I kept them pretty short and trimmed them every few months. Also, I repaired them by crotchetting rather than twisting. And once I gave up trying to dye them purple, I plaited in a few purple hair pieces to get the colour I wanted. So in my mind, it was pretty feasible to just, you know, undo them, like braids. At least it was in theory.

When I first got the idea to change my hair, I was advised to see a hair specialist. Unfortunately, I visited her salon while she wasn’t there, and when I called her and explained what I wanted on the phone, she thought I was mad and was naturally unenthusiatic. Me, I ignored her and started undoing my dreads.

Nine hours and a very sore neck later, I went to my daughter’s hairdresser and had her help me undo the rest. She recruited three other hairdressers, and it took them seven hours to shed the dreads in total. That done, I followed the instructions from my work-mate, except it didn’t turn out as expected.

What I wanted

What I got











Those are Googled Images by the way, so any likeness is purely incidental *cheeky grin*. After the drastic change on my head, I got lots of different … reactions. A surprising number of people liked the new look. They said it made me look younger and more feminine. Which is weird, because I personally think I look a bit like a boy. I actually joked with a male workmate that my hairdo is exactly like his, except that mine takes an hour to make. Le sigh.

I’ve also noticed people are responding differently to me. Apparently, this new hairdo is the in-thing with artistes and media types, so people are – once again – assuming that it’s some kind of statement. I’ve gone from being cat-called with ‘Vipi Sista Dredd’ to ‘Heeeeeyyyyyy Team Naturalista!’ *Groan*

For the record, I have no problem with #TeamNaturalista. I just find ‘them’ a little bit … scary. The beauty regime is almost militant, and it represents a new kind of black pride that I find a little … drastic. But maybe that’s because I’ve been accused of being white in the past, so this whole black girl attitude is just a little chaffing. They do have a lot of helpful tips though, so I log in pretty often.

In related news, this look works

In other news, this look works

On the up-side, the new hair has helped my confidence. In the past, when I noticed guys looking at me, I assumed it was because I had purple strands in my dreads. Now when I notice a prolonged glance, I at least consider it might because the looker finds me attractive, and that’s a very welcome feeling.

Also because of my hair texture and shrinkage, it looks very short and compact on my head. But if you pick a strand and stretch it (or go a little nuts and blow-dry it), it’s long enough for a ponytail or some fancy roller style that can be worn at – for example – my brother’s up-coming wedding. Handy, no?

I do feel a little sad that hair is a political tool now, that the way I wear my hair is seen as a sign of how much I accept or reject myself, that my short afro and my daughter’s long relaxed hair are seen of symbols of how feminine or African we are(n’t). Meanwhile, I suspect the sudden lure of short afros is that it makes guys think of other kinds of hair…

Anyway, I’m learning to like my new hair, letting it grow on me, pun intended. It looks pretty easy to manage, and I don’t know if everyone sporting this hairdo puts quite as much effort into it. I assume half the short afros are simply washed and combed while wet, just like half the males in Nairobi.

This look works too

Meanwhile, this look works too

In my case, I wash it every day with conditioner then comb it with a metal pick and let it air dry. Which is why it takes an hour to look exactly like my brother’s. I use Tresemme conditioner, which costs anything from 450/= to 1200/= depending on where you buy it (and what ‘flavour’ you like. I use Curl Hydration). I’ve been told Venus works just as well and costs a whole lot less, so I’m going to check it out later this week.

Okay now I sound a bit like a #TeamNaturalista, so I’ll just point out that a metal pick is one of those combs with metal spikes that we used as kids, and that air-drying just means you don’t use a towel after washing. I’ve seen suggestions to dry the hair using a t-shirt because towels are too harsh, but that seemed pretty drastic, so I just get up an hour early to give the hair time to dry before I leave the house. Yes, I do realise that’s a different kind of drastic…

I haven’t quite decided what to do with my hair. I tried making a flat twist out, which is basically twisting your hair into mistari overnight – or ideally keeping the twists for a week or so – then undoing them in the morning to get a nice curly look. But it was a lot of work and it kind of backfired, so for now I’m doing the short boyish co-wash-and-comb. Basically washing with a conditioner instead of shampoo. It’s called a  wash-and-go … because you’re supposed to wash it and go out of the house like that. Except I feel a bit weird walking around with uncombed hair.

I’m kind of curious about when this type of hair became hot. I mean a few years back, having ‘boy hair’ was pretty frowned upon. Which I suppose is why women started straightening it out and wearing weaves. So I’d love to know who decided it was fashionable to have your hair kinky and short.

Every third woman has her hair that way now. It’s like a new uniform. Almost makes me miss my dreads, except that the princess loves my new do and has forbidden me to change it. Her own hair is luxuriously permed and is mostly in cornrows for school, so I guess in some odd way she’s vicariously living through mine. Le sigh. The one thing I’m dreading is swim sessions though … *shudder*

And this look would be totally divine!

Now THIS look would be totally divine!

I was thinking about colouring the hair purple or something, but right now it’s a reddish sort of black. I also got a bunch of hair ornaments. Butterflies and bows and flowers, to make my boy-hair look a tad more girly. Maybe at some point I’ll get into the styling routine, try out some more adventure, do more than just wash it and comb it. But for now it’s growing on me, and I’m starting to get used it.

The one downside of this new hairdo is pillow hair. During the day, it’s all rounded and poofy and feels quite soft. But the second I lean back in a matatu, sink into my couch, or lie down for some beauty sleep, the hair gremlin attacks. I wake up with my head flattened in strange, disturbing shapes that have my little girl giggling, but might produce a special kind of trauma to bed-mates less acquainted with hair gymnastics. It’s times like that I almost miss my dreads. No, I will not wear stockings, satin head scarfs, or swimming caps. And as for silk pillows, I have a big head, so it wouldn’t help the shape of my morning-after-hair.


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Crystal Ading' is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through threeceebee.com.

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